6/20/12 School board still fuming over budget

School board still fuming over budget
ABSS facing cuts of 7 percent in funding
By Chris Lavender The Times-News 6/20/12     
Reprinted with permission.

Alamance County Commissioners held their meeting in the Alamance County Courthouse on Monday evening. Loudspeakers were set up outside for the large overflow crowd.  

Sam Roberts / Times-News
Alamance County Commissioners held their meeting in the Alamance County Courthouse on Monday evening. Loudspeakers were set up outside for the large overflow crowd.   

   GRAHAM — Alamance County Board of Education members took a few hours to digest another year of budget cuts Monday by the Alamance County Board of Commissioners.

   Things didn’t look better in the morning.

   Board of Education chairwoman Jackie Cole said Tuesday she was disappointed the commissioners decided to cut local school funding by 7 percent.

   “Our funding has been cut by 12 percent in the past two years,” Cole said.

   Before a packed house at the old courthouse in Graham and more than a hundred people listening outside, commissioners approved a $122 million budget Monday for 2012-13. The budget includes no use of the county’s fund balance and $30,405,000 for schools next year.

   The school system had requested the county provide it with $34,520,907 for 2012-13.

   County Manager Craig Honeycutt said Monday night that even with a cut in local funding, the school system would still meet its $171 million funding target for 2012-13 with help from state and federal funding sources. All outside agencies funded by the county received a 7 percent cut in local funding in the budget.

   Cole was less certain.

   Proposed state and federal funding for ABSS hasn’t been approved and there could still be a budget hole to fill, said Cole. The school board would meet with ABSS Superintendent Lillie Cox in the coming weeks to discuss how to offset potential funding cuts from the state and federal sources.

   School board member Patsy Simpson was still angry Tuesday after storming from the Monday night meeting.

   Simpson interrupted Commissioner Tom Manning as he was making his remarks about the budget near the end of the meeting. Simpson said Honeycutt could have showed all of the budget information he presented on the video screen to the school board members in advance and that a dialogue could have been established. Manning told Simpson she was out of line with her comments. Simpson then left the meeting.

   On Tuesday, Simpson said she was still upset about Honeycutt’s budget presentation and also by the conduct of both the commissioners and school board members during the past few weeks regarding budget discussions. Simpson said the proposed state and federal budgets for education funding had not been approved and Honeycutt shouldn’t have used these proposals to say that the school system would meet its $171 million funding target despite local cuts.

   Simpson said despite Honeycutt’s claims, ABSS may end up having a $3 million shortfall in funding for 2012-13, which may have to be offset by the school system’s fund balance.

   The county shouldn’t make a distinction between funding for county departments and outside agencies, Simpson said. The 2012-13 budget cuts funding for county departments by 2 percent.

   School board member Tony Rose said the commissioners and school board needed to work together to develop a strategic spending policy so that the school system’s fund balance wouldn’t become a distraction again in future budget cycles. A policy needed to be developed to determine the size and use of the school system’s fund balance that was agreeable to both sides.

   Rose acknowledged ABSS’s fund balance was $21 million as of June 30, 2011. ABSS adopted a spend down policy in February 2011 regarding its fund balance usage. Rose said the school board designated to spend $7 million of its fund balance in 2011-12, $4 million in 2012-13, and $3 million in 2013-14.

   Rose said the ABSS fund balance was projected to be at $5 million by June 30, 2014. The fund balance is not projected to increase as it has in the past, when federal stimulus funds were used to offset state and local funding.

   Commissioner Tim Sutton said Simpson’s behavior on Monday night showed how far apart the two sides seem to be right now.

   “She stormed out of the meeting,” Sutton said. “That shows you we can’t work together without animosity.”

   Cole said she was encouraged by the support shown by the public during the meeting. The Superior Courtroom was filled to capacity during the meeting and about 120 people gathered outside the courthouse to show their support for the speakers inside.